Table of Contents
Also by Lisa Rowe Fraustino
The Hickory Chair
Grass and Sky
I Walk in Dread:
The Diary of Deliverance Trembley,
Witness to the Salem Witch Trials
Don’t Cramp My Style:
Stories About That Time of the Month
Stories About Family Secrets
Thirteen Stories About Faith and Belief
for my son,
“Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil
set off a tornado in Texas?”
When he got the idea that would change his life, the boy was lying on his back in the cave near his home. He was staring up with his eyes crossed and waiting for the stone colors to show themselves again.
Months ago he had seen them for the first time. He was playing with his toy soldiers, and as he twisted his head to survey the dramatic battlefield, the colors blinked at the edges of his vision. When he tried to look straight at the bursts of color, they disappeared. It was maddening. He wanted to see them again.
Day after day he returned to the cave, hoping to glimpse the colors. He found that when he read there and his mind was involved in the world of the book, the colors sometimes flickered in the corner of one eye. If he stayed perfectly still at that moment, the colors would linger briefly, bright and pulsing in beautiful shapes that looked like ferns, or maps, or fields of broccoli.
One day he fell asleep in the cave, and as he awoke, before he remembered where he was, he thought he saw the colors everywhere in the walls, every color imaginable, swirling in three dimensions, making patterns like his mother’s crocheted blankets. He thought he saw threads of color crocheted down to the middle of the earth.
After that he found he could best call up the colors when he let his eyes float out of focus and turned his mind to daydreams. Today his mind wandered to a story he’d just read about dragons, and he imagined himself inside a dragon’s lair, trying to rob its hoard of jewels while the beast slept. As he reached for a ruby that had fallen away from the pile, the bold colors whirled in the rock overhead like wings flapping. For an instant he thought he could hear something—a musical ringing. The air suddenly smelled sweet.
“Beautiful,” he said in awe, though nobody else was near. He sometimes allowed a neighbor friend to join him in the cave, but only to play games or read joke books. He never told his friend about the colors he saw and his friend never saw them. That was his secret pleasure.
And now they were gone again, the dragon’s wings buried in lumpy gray stone. The colors always disappeared as soon as he became aware of them, and he was never able to revive the same vision. Each sighting felt like a gift and a loss at once. If he could only make the colors stay longer and hold their beautiful shapes.
While he lay wishing he could conjure up the dragon again, he decided that the next time he’d try to get the memory down on paper, perhaps make a painting. But where could he ever find colors like that? None of his pencils, markers, or paints would be the same. The colors in the rocks had depth, dimension, and motion. How could he capture that spirit on a flat sheet of paper with his schoolboy art supplies?
And then he realized. The colors existed in the rocks. Well, he could get them out! Yes, he’d chip away some stone exactly where the dragon wings had flapped, and he’d grind it down to find the pigments. Surely he could figure out how to turn the pigments into paint.
The boy ran straight home to find a chisel.
The first strange thing I noticed that cloudy Thursday morning was my brother’s cat jumping up on me like a dog when I opened the henhouse door to feed the chickens before school. A cat acting like a dog wasn’t the strange part. He’s always done that. Which is one reason Pa started calling him Jed’s Stupid Cat instead of the name on his collar—Fluffy Kitty.
Stupid had been missing since Jed ran away from home. Back in the fall. I was surprised to see the old furball, but that wasn’t the strange part either. Pa had never allowed the cat inside the house. He came and went as he pleased, sometimes disappearing for weeks or months. But this time Stupid had reappeared inside the henhouse.
Unless . . . did this mean Jed had returned? Excitedly I ran out to the miniature stone castle in our backyard and flung open the door, calling Jed’s name. But his room remained as he’d left it six months ago: neatly made bed without him in it, neat piles of books on the floor making a shelf for his neat piles of clothes, guitar under the bed, space heater under the single window. A dozen cuckoo birds stared forlornly from the collection of clocks covering the walls, their weights resting on the floor with nobody to reset them every eight days.
Just then Ma’s clunker SUV chirruped outside. She left real early for work at the dress factory in Exton. That’s why her chickens were my chores now. Jed used to take care of them.
Suddenly I remembered something. Ma was supposed to sign my homework! I started running down the driveway waving my arms behind the car, but then I ran back to the henhouse before she saw me. Because I suddenly remembered something else. I’d actually sort of forgotten to do my homework. Which happens a lot. Which is the reason Ms. Byron asked me yesterday to get it signed. Ms. Byron was going to have my wild rumpus in detention if I went to school without that math again.
For about the gazillionth time I wished Jed hadn’t run away. Jed used to help me with homework.
As I tossed feed to Barney the rooster and his harem, I planned a desperate plea to my grandmother. Grum just had to let me stay home from school, because . . . because I was the victim of a mysterious debilitating illness! Hadn’t I grown thin lately even though I ate everything Ma served, no matter how overcooked or underdelicious? Now that I thought about it, I ached all over. My stomach ached, my head ached, my insides ached teeth to toes. Little twitching pains crawled sincerely all along my skeletal system.
I screamed in horror, collapsed and rolled in agony on the straw, then lost consciousness as the ambulance sirens approached. I awoke alone in a hospital bed, my lungs grabbing desperately for air. With possibly my last breath in this life, I croaked, “Nurse!”
The nurse came flying in, crying, “Cock-a-doodle-doo!”
Whoops. There went my brain making things up. Again. Barney was flapping his wings at me while I reached under a chicken for an egg. And that was when I noticed the second strange thing in the henhouse that morning.
The bird didn’t move. It sat very still like Grum in church, only its eyes followed my hand as I stole its baby. This was not very henlike. In fact, so
henlike that it creeped me out, and the egg fell out of my hand in shock. My shock, I mean. I dove to catch it before it went SPLAT! but only caught the floor with my face.
Instead of going SPLAT! like a decent egg should, the freak went BUMP! and wobbled off like it was hard-boiled. Okay, was my unique brain imagining things again? Always a concern. I smacked myself in the head to check. My head hurt, and when I kicked the egg it didn’t crack. This was real.
Not good. Every penny counted around our place, and the first things to go when the egg dollars didn’t come in were the fun things. Like Saturday roller skating at the Skate Away.
This situation wasn’t natural. It needed attention. With the hard egg in hand, I ran to the house and jumpkicked the door open. The door didn’t like to open unless you gave it a good kick or yank, depending on which side you were on. Just one of the many warps in our house A.O.—After Odum Research Corporation bought up all of Kokadjo Gore to strip-mine it. Our place was practically falling apart from soaking up runoff from across the street. Sometimes I swear the water ran uphill just so it could get into our basement. Really!
“Shish! Grum! Look!” Shish is what I very affectionately call my twin sister Barbara, short for Shish Kebarb.
“Oh, shush yourself,” she said. She was born seventeen minutes before me but always acted like it was seventeen years. Everything I could do, she could do first. She’d always been taller than me—taller than everyone in our grade, actually. Her eyes were darker brown than mine. Even her feet were bigger. But my hair was blonder and curlier and
drove her insane with jealousy. As opposed to just driving her insane.
“What’s gotten into you kids, raising your voices like that?” Grum rolled her eyes toward the ceiling, warning us. The cobwebs dangling from the light fan were vibrating with Pa’s snores. Pa snored like a jackhammer. It was never a good sign when he stopped jackhammering before 9 AM.
Jed used to say that one good reason Ma raised hens was so we’d always have plenty of eggshells to walk on around Pa.
“But, Grum!” (That was me.)
“Drink the rest of your milk, Barbara Arleene Daniels,” Grum added.
A few years ago Grum had broken both of her wrists carrying too many plastic grocery bags. The doctor said it happened because she had bone loss due to osteoporosis. Ever since then she was a lunatic about everyone getting enough calcium and Vitamin D.
“I got an emergency here!” (Me again.)
“Aw, Grum, I hate milk when it’s all warm.” Barbie can make hate sound sweet.
“Drink it all when it’s still cold, Missy, and you won’t have that problem. Don’t drink it now and you’ll have worse problems when you’re old like me. You’ll be Miss Now-I-Walk-with-a-Cane-and-Should-Have-Drunk-My-Milk-When- I-Had-the-Chance of the Universe. Young women have to put bones in the bank. And sit up straight while you’re at it. Slouching leads to—”
This could go on forever. “But the chickens!” I yelled, stomping my feet.
Grum peered at me in her sneaky way, eyes snooping above her glasses as she looked up from the snarled ball of string that she untangled hour after hour because she liked to keep her hands busy, and, “Waste not, want not.” I knew I was in for one of her lessons of the day.
“But the chickens? But the chickens! Is that what passes for a complete thought nowadays? The chickens are a lonely subject in search of a predicate.”
“They have a pox! Look!” I held my hand out and dropped the egg.
“Seb!” squealed my perfect sister.
The egg went BUMP! wobble-wobble-wobble and stopped against Grum’s slipper. She put her string ball down and made clickety noises with her false teeth as she poked at the egg with her toe.
“Why, it’s like a rock! I’ve never seen anything like it. Were there others?”